Deep dive: insights into digital health education and training in China and Austria

Earlier this month, we explored electronic health records across Africa as part of our new international deep dive series; today, we’re taking a look at digital health education and the experiences of medical students in this area across China and Austria.

Digital health education in China… 

In a study published last month in BMC Medical Education journal, researchers explored the perception of digital health among medical students in China, along with the current implementation of digital health education in the country.

By surveying medical students in China, the researchers sought to explore how medical students view digital health and its future, the practical problems associated with provision of digital health in China, and the types of knowledge and skills that medical students want to develop in this area along with how this training can be delivered.

On digital health awareness, 57 percent of respondents had already taken a digital health course. 23 percent of medical students surveyed were “unfamiliar with or unsure about digital health”, and 13 percent were found to “not know the definition of digital health”.

However, more than 80 percent of respondents believed “that the future use of wearable devices and mobile apps and the future use of telemedicine is advantageous”, Specifically, the study found that 86 percent believed in the benefits of big medical data; 85 percent of respondents believed in the benefits of wearable devices; and 84 percent believed in the benefits of telemedicine. 64 percent said that they believe in the benefits of clinical decision support systems (CDSS). On this, the researchers highlight a need to “strengthen education and training related to CDSS and AI to ensure that [medical students in China] can use AI as a tool in the future.”

In terms of education, more than 80 percent said that they “want to learn more about digital health in medical courses”, with 38 percent sharing a belief that they need to learn more. However, six percent of those surveyed said that they did not want to learn about digital health, with 36 percent stating that they were “not sure of the advantages of digital health practices in the future”. In addition, 41 percent of respondents said that they wanted to develop their understanding ethical issues and legal knowledge around digital health.

With regards to this, the researchers state: “Our study found that respondents’ awareness of ethical issues and legal knowledge related to digital health is significantly lower than their knowledge of clinical practice and application… For the next generation of physicians who will work in digital medicine, acquiring the ethical knowledge reflected by artificial intelligence and other relevant digital technologies is an extremely important part of their medical curriculum that should be given attention early in their engagement with digital health technologies.” They add that ethics courses should be included in the design of digital health training courses to “meet the needs of the next generation of physicians and improve their medical humanistic competence”.

Another takeaway from the study is that “medical students prefer hands-on training and practice to the passive knowledge transfer of lectures”, with 78 percent stating that they would rather be taught about digital health using practical training and internship methods; only 10 percent said that they would choose traditional lecture methods. “This finding provides a new vision for digital health curriculum design for medical students,” the researchers note. They suggest that the ‘Student as Partners’ initiative, in which staff and students work together to create curriculum approaches, “is a good reference for digital health course designers”.

The study can be found in full here.

… and in Austria 

In a similar study published in the National Library of Medicine, researchers sought to explore the attitude and perception of medical students towards digital health in Austria, with focus on the educational content valued by students and the topics they would recommend for training.

When medical students were asked to recommend training areas for the digital health curriculum, the top 10 recommended topics were digital diagnostics; artificial intelligence and machine learning; patient self-diagnosis with apps and internet; simulation and data visualisation; decision support systems; handling overwhelming internet information; bio signals and bio signal processing; data structures and big data; robotics; and ethical and legal aspects of digital communication channels.

The researchers highlight how the ethical and legal aspects were at the bottom of the top 10 list. Although 89 percent rated data protection as “very important” for their professional careers, only 18 percent recommended it as an area in which to focus training, with opinions split over whether or not the current curriculum content is sufficient. According to the researchers, their study suggests that “medical students leave it with the application developer and medical agencies to ensure high data protection” and they add that they believe there is a tendency for medical students to be “afraid about communication in the digital world”. In addition, their survey found that “more than half” of respondents “expect a worsening of the patient-physician communication due to digital health”.

In addition, the study points out, “the results show that medical students miss an overview about the many and various areas of digital health applications.” When asked to recommend areas for further training, the results indicate that “medical students focus on digital diagnostics, which is very popular and covered by many public sources. Beyond digital diagnostics knowledge and interests significantly drop.” Here, the researchers recommend medical students require educational support to “better understand the benefits as well as the limitations of digital health” overall.

Based on their findings, the researchers make the following recommendations; that existing training for medical statistics be interwoven with clinical reasons to develop data-driven reasoning; that “concepts, benefits and limitation of state-of-the-art applications need to be taught as part of the respective medical speciality in the second part of their studies”; and that open lecturers should be organised to promote interest and to present “outstanding digital scientific and medical digital health projects”.

In addition, the study indicates that “medical students at the beginning of their studies are more interested in digital health technology”; therefore, the researchers say, “fundamentals and basic application concepts of digital health technologies need to be trained in parallel to biology and chemistry as part of the pre-clinical subjects”.

The study can be found in full here.


Ma, M., Li, Y., Gao, L. et al. The need for digital health education among next-generation health workers in China: a cross-sectional survey on digital health education. BMC Med Educ 23, 541 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12909-023-04407-w

Baumgartner M, Sauer C, Blagec K, Dorffner G. Digital health understanding and preparedness of medical students: a cross-sectional study. Med Educ Online. 2022 Dec;27(1):2114851. doi: 10.1080/10872981.2022.2114851. PMID: 36036219; PMCID: PMC9423824.

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